Tag Archives: Recovery

Should You Intermittent Fast? A Basic Primer on Intermittent Fasting

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First, in brief:

Intermittent fasting can work sometimes with exercise, depending on what you do and how.

You should avoid intermittent fasting if you work out in the morning.

The more training you’re doing, the less likely it’s a good idea.

Most of those who practice intermittent fasting and train effectively only strength train as their only meaningful, intense exercise. Generally, their only aerobic training is whatever walking they do during the day, or very brief high intensity interval training… if they do any cardio at all.

If you don’t do much exercise at all, then yes intermittent fasting is a good idea. And you should probably get some exercise, but intermittent fasting is a good habit.

A General Overview of Intermittent Fasting:

Instead of traditional fasting, where you may go a day or more without eating… intermittent fasting is about eating all your day’s meals in a short window of time and not eating the rest of the day.

Even if you eat a similar number of calories, the long break from eating gives your body an extended metabolic break, which can help reduce inflammation and better promote healing and recovery. This is actually more of the benefit of intermittent fasting than the potential fat burning improvements that can occur during the fast.

There’s no calorie restriction on how much you eat during the food window. But, obviously, it’s going to be harder to overeat in a single 8 hour window than it would be if you ate meals throughout the day.

Still, it is possible to outeat the fast during the 8 hour window and still maintain or gain weight. The fast doesn’t cause you to lose weight in itself. While it’s obviously more difficult in a shorter window of time, you can still overeat. That said, intermittent fasting can help with food portion and weight control.

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Curing Your Sleep Problems

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Here is a topic near and dear to my heart, an important facet of health that I’ve been working on as much as my diet and exercise.

The single most important aspect of your training development outside of the actual exercise is your ability to get good sleep. Even the important factor of your diet serves in large part your ability to effectively sleep, and its positive effects on your health will be limited if you aren’t sleeping well.

Over 1/3 of U.S. residents surveyed report they don’t get at least 7 hours sleep, and it’s no surprise nearly 40% report some sort of sleep disorder. While some may try to pinpoint the cause to some sort of disorder, the reality is that our choices play a substantial role in how much sleep we get or don’t get.

Unless you’re caring for a newborn child (during that period, they’re often going to wake up overnight and there’s little you can do about that), those choices were to a substantial degree probably avoidable. Even being compelled to keep a complicated, troublesome schedule due to career or family concerns is to some degree a preventable product of life choices. We often choose other priorities over sleep and don’t realize what a mistake that is.

But I digress, and that’s a whole other topic. Barring such extenuating circumstances, most people have ample opportunity to get good sleep every night, and they just don’t. And they may not be fully aware of what else they do aside from just staying awake to deny themselves of that opportunity to sleep….

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How A Busy Schedule Improved My Nutrition

I’m currently working in a fairly isolated location across town, and some weeks I’m working longer than 8 hours. My schedule many workdays is wall to wall booked:

  • Wake up
  • Perhaps run as time allows
  • Prep for work
  • Go to work and work 8-10 hours
  • Commute home
  • Work out if I didn’t get to in the morning
  • Eat dinner
  • Prep food and clothes for tomorrow
  • Go to bed.

On many workdays I can’t leave the client facility because I only have 30 minutes for lunch, plus even when I can the best food options are halfway across town. In this location there’s no supermarkets or viable restaurant options nearby. I won’t eat garbage fast food or something off a vending machine or convenience store counter. Even if any of it was satisfying (hint: doubtful), the near total lack of useful nutrients will crash my energy levels in the afternoon, in a job where I need to stay engaged and proactive.

And, of course, I’m now endurance training. I need to stay fueled for those morning and/or afternoon runs. I can’t just eat a minimal diet or whatever happens to be available and expect to perform as needed in these workouts. Plus, I have to maintain my overall health and not make choices that will contribute to illness or burnout. The food I eat has to support not just my general day to day health but what I am doing in training.

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Two Common Strength Training Mistakes

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I spend a lot of time in the gym with a lot of people who work out. Social media shows me countless others who also work out, train others, etc. I don’t have a Kinesiology degree but I know what I’m talking about. I preface with this because some of you are not going to like what I’m going to say next.

The two most common mistakes I see people make with strength training are:

  1. People train like a powerlifter, with powerlifter goals, even though that’s not or should not be their goal.
  2. People train continuously without taking any proactive, conscious training breaks.

Why are these problems?

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10+ Thoughts on Building Training Breaks Into Strength And Endurance Training

Runners typically train for a race through 8-24 weeks of focused, progressive training, then take a break of either reduced or no running for some time afterward.

It just occurred to me that:

  1. People who primarily strength train as their exercise never train like this.
  2. Many who strength training typically see their development and progress hyperbolically slow after training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
  3. Serious runners also see their progress hyperbolically slow after years of mostly continuous hard training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
  4. Except for a weeks/months long “offseason” where they basically don’t train at all, most serious runners train continuously for their entire season with few, often brief planned breaks
  5. Runners could benefit from peak-and-valleying their training season in the style of a 12 month grade school. Basically, you ramp training around recurring goal races, with the plan to downscale training in the week(s) following those periodic goal races.
  6. Strength trainees may see more progress if they were to build regular periodic training breaks or “de-loads” into their training. Basically, progress training as usual for 8-24 weeks, then take a week or more where training stops and/or volume (whether reps, weight, frequency, or all of the above) are substantially, pointedly reduced. You rebuild, re-load energy and drive, then resume training a few days/weeks later really to attack the weights/road/water/bike/etc.

6a. Unplanned breaks like injuries and other life emergencies don’t count. Your body and mind are taxed and have to heal in other ways during breaks like these, and aren’t as fully available to rebuild and heal the way they do during a conscious, planned break in training. Sure, some recovery can happen, but imagine how you feel after a very stressful vacation. Are you “refreshed” and 100% when you go back to work or school?

  1. I imagine a lot of the stalled progress in muscle growth and other “GAINZ” most strength trainees experience would cease to stall if they consciously built to a scheduled peak over weeks/months, then made a point to take a 1-2 week break afterward before resuming.

7a. Fitness loss is minimal during a 1-2 week extended break. As distance running’s Hanson Brothers have attested, the body tends to reap direct benefits from a key workout (and conversely, experiences a loss of fitness from a lack thereof) after 8-12 days. You can probably take a week off before resuming training and experience little to no loss in strength/fitness from where you left off. Two weeks off, and the loss would be very slight, to the point where after a couple weeks of gradually resumed training you’d be back to where you had left off.

  1. So now, I’m looking at you, runners. Many of you have the right idea, where you start training mainly to run a goal race, train hard for that 8-24 weeks, then run your goal race and take it easy for a few days/weeks. There are certainly many things you could do better, but you have the right idea.

8a. And then there are some of you who continiously train, and train hard every week. You don’t take many planned breaks, maybe after a marathon or a longer race, but otherwise you’re doing high intensity workouts and/or high volume almost every week. And then you’re wondering why you get injured or you constantly have nagging injuries.

8b. Some of you call them “niggles”. I call them red alarm signals that you need to take a few days off.

  1. This doesn’t mean don’t run unless you’re training for a goal race. This means your training should more consciously ebb and flow, at the very least follow a 3-5 week continuous cycle of gradually increasing volume to a peak before a week of lighter training. But what could benefit you most is longer 8-16 week cycles of gradually progressing volume, then or preceding gradually increasing intensity, before tapering and/or a goal race, followed by a 1-2 week period of reduced or eliminated training at a substantially lower intensity.
  2. Plan breaks into your training before life makes you take unplanned breaks from training.
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Listening to your body: Not just about how you feel

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The catchphrase “listen to your body” is a general reminder to pay attention to the signals your body is giving you regarding your health, energy levels, mood, pain, etc. Paying attention to this information will show you when to rest, when to push hard in workouts, etc.

But we tend to only pay attention to energy, pain signals, and our general mood. Other things we measure and observe are also information our body is giving us.

Presuming you don’t have one: Some of this info can and should be tracked using a fitness watch such as a Fitbit or a Garmin. A suitable watch tracks calories burned and sleep on an ongoing basis. They’re not cheap (typically $100-400) but they are definitely worth their cost if you’re serious about fitness and personal development.

The information this watch can give you when worn everyday provides you with not just a wealth of stats, but those stats can communicate signals that your body hasn’t otherwise been able to get through to you.

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My biggest Chicago training mistake

Hindsight is typically 20/20 when it comes to training mistakes. Often you couldn’t have known at the time you were making a mistake, as experience afterwards is what ultimately taught you that what you thought was right turned out not to be right.

I trained a lot in Chicago as a runner, and I got into pretty good condition for where I was at. I learned how to prevent and safely work through injuries, and I logged a substantial volume of miles while running in dozens of races during the few years I seriously trained.

Looking back, I realize that something I did at every speed or tempo workout was actually counterproductive to my recovery and growth. It was hard to miss in large part because most of the people I trained with made a habit of the same thing, and even coaches didn’t realize this was counterproductive.

But the mistake inadvertently slowed my growth from these workouts, and had I know not to do it then I likely would have recovered more quickly and grown stronger workout-over-workout than I ended up doing. It may have made a substantial difference in how I performed in marathons and other key races.

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